Covid-19 and the Tower of Babel: Part 1

All of us are, of course, are currently living through the crisis of Covid-19. It is a well-used phrase but also a most appropriate saying that this crisis offers us both the reality of danger and the possibility of opportunity. The Covid-19 dangers are well communicated and often well documented. They report how many people will die or will have long term health implications […]

All of us are, of course, are currently living through the crisis of Covid-19. It is a well-used phrase but also a most appropriate saying that this crisis offers us both the reality of danger and the possibility of opportunity.

The Covid-19 dangers are well communicated and often well documented. They report how many people will die or will have long term health implications if infected…how long the virus might last or morph into a new strain…how many people will lose their spouses and friends, their jobs and their income…how many companies will not survive or be bought out by financial opportunities (or predators, depending on who you talk to)…how our entire global world will be impacted in the short and long term.

Meanwhile, a surge of activity is taking place around the world to produce more equipment, search for a cure, subsidize companies in trouble, or even to just reach out and be with those we love.

Underneath all that well-intentioned activity is a significant opportunity.

For the first time in perhaps recorded history, the vast majority of the known world is facing a common tragedy, a universal danger. This is more personal than any vague global issue – and feels more urgent and in-our-face than climate change. We have a problem worthy of a coordinated and sustained global effort. At the same time, we are connected by phone, social media, and the web in a way only possible in the last few decades.

We are in this together. And human potential is rising to meet the foe.

In this season where isolation and nationalism are no small threats, where divisions appear at every turn, I believe we are thirsty for such an opportunity. There is an unspoken question that hovers just beyond our collective view. As science has progressed and technology advances, a global interconnectedness has surged. There is a question that beckons us with a seductive substance and unmistakable power:

What would happen if we put aside our divisions; came together in shared purpose; and deployed all our collective knowledge, resources, and energy toward a common, global goal? What could we not achieve?

Surely, we could conquer the financial, medical, and social problems related to Covid 19! In fact, is there any crises we could not handle? What will it take for us to unite? Wouldn’t that be a “good” thing?

But this is not the first time the human race has asked these questions. There is a story in our history that I would like to retell. It is the biblical story of the Tower of Babel found in Genesis 11. Listen to it in light of our current danger, opportunity, and world-wide connectedness.

There was an early moment in God’s story, when the whole earth and all its dispersed inhabitants settled in one place, in the plain of Shinar, the ancient name for Babylon. There, the people spoke the same language; there, they discovered their great potential and possibilities, that there was something delightful, something wonderful about their ability to use bricks and tar to make a grand city of  tall, strong buildings.

Their collective potential, their creativity, their technology were gifts from being made in the image of God; their abilities also made them vulnerable to the temptation of Eden: “you can be like god…”

One day they gathered and schemed: “Come, let us make a tower, a tower so high that it can reach toward heaven, upward to God.  We can put a small temple on top, make a place for God to come and meet with us. It’s going to be an awe-inspiring building. When it’s done, the world will see the greatness of our human potential.”

Sure enough, as they began to work together with their modern technology, the tower sprung up toward the heavens. But before it was finished, God leaned in. You see, they were building this tower toward heaven on merely human terms – and acting as if they were God.

That’s a problem worth a God interruption.

Sitting on heaven’s throne, God saw their work. He both marveled and grieved. Their technology and unified efforts, all their “confident progress” He sees infected by rebellion. That might sound strange to our modern ears, but if you are a great and awesome God, who loves all and sees the end of all our deeds, it makes holy sense to think that way.

Right in the middle of the people’s great progress, God – Father, Son and Spirit – came down and deliberated, “if we wait for the bricks to slowly age and crumble, it will be too late, the heart damage will long be done. Come let us scatter these people to live around the earth and speak not one language but many languages. With their unity broken, with the coming of confusion and new obstacles to progress, maybe they will come home to see their limits and need. Maybe they will come to discover how their own lives will, like their clay bricks, one day will crumble into dust.” 

Out of his desire that all would see him as King and the source of all things good, God acted. He caused the Shinar plain to become like an airport, scattering all the people from there to their new destinations in every corner of the world.

And their previous clarity in communicating and understanding became now like a baby’s babbling.

Confusion and disunity reigned as each tribe hunkered down on their own to pursue their life and create their own purpose and their own religions. It was on their own terms and for their own benefit.

Fence building, tribalism, the first forms of nationalism…then babbling, more and more babbling.  

Dear friends, what will happen if the nations of our world today follow Babel’s suit and collectively refuse to live under God’s loving rule ? How long will it be until our world and its ways crumble like clay bricks into the dust from which they came?

Good questions indeed. By the looks of recent history or even what happened after USA’s 9/11, an immediate and widespread turning back to God doesn’t look likely.

The good news is that the story of Babel does not come to a final “end” in Genesis 11. It quietly resurfaces in at least two other places.

Join us next week for Part 2 and the Conclusion of Covid-19 and the Tower of Babel